“Why don’t you become a lawyer, doctor or engineer?” A sentence all too familiar for a lot of people with an Asian heritage. Tak Lo did just the opposite of that. Tak, a former US army veteran, a former director of the famous Techstars accelerator, who is currently a venture capitalist in Asia, the UK, the US, a company mentor for startups here in the Asia Pacific region and across the world spoke to GrowthKungFu co-founders Wai Hoi Tsang and Pritish Sanyal about the challenges of taking a non-traditional Asian career path.
Taking risk is the logical choice
Every time I go into school, I come out and think I'll go into investment banking and it never happens. Most to the disappointment of my father. I would like to think I am extremely logical – my undergrad is in economics – so I always thought of risk slightly differently. So both after the University of Chicago and London Business School, I said: [now] is the best time to take lots of risk, because you're extremely young and you [can] take risk you wouldn't be able to take at any other time because your risk profile changes over time and decreases as you get older.
That's why I took risk after the University of Chicago [by joining the United States Army]. Correlating, after the London Business School, it was the same thing. I was 31 and I understood it was one more time to take risk. When you are 30, you start to have a decreasing ability to change careers.
Nobody wants to hire a 35-year-old into a new industry. I decided for myself that I wanted to be in startups, I thought the switching costs of making enough money and then switching were too high afterwards, even if you have enough money.
So I decided to switch right then, right there to the industry I wanted to be in, while I still could. And not be locked inside the investment banking bubble. I thought it was the logical choice and it turned out to be the right choice.
What can you say to those people who are being pressured by their family, by their peers and friends to become a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer? What can you tell about why you took that choice and what you took away from it? How does that impact how you see life and business today?
First thing is, family pressure is real. No question. Oftentimes I think it's artificial as well. Family pressure is just another form of social pressure, right? Your friends do one thing, my family says another thing. Ultimately, I am in the driver seat and I have to make the choices that are right for me. For the listeners, I think that's that: [family pressure is] just like any other pressure. It might be weighted slightly higher, because your family at the end of the day is your family.
The second thing is, especially for those that are right out of undergrad. That first choice that you make out of the undergrad, really dictates how you live the rest of your life. Right out of undergrad you have the most flexibilty in terms of what you choose and how you want to live the rest of your life.
If you decide, in 20 years from now, I want to be an entrepreneur so therefore I am going to do this because this is what helps me to get there or the same for an investor, I think [that’s harder, but] those are the choices one needs to make.